"Do it yourself" - Why removing moles at home is a bad idea?

Several over-the-counter devices or home treatments claim to effectively remove moles at home. But you should think twice before doing such a procedure without the supervision of an expert dermatologist. Below I explain the consequences of removing a mole by yourself.

Remove moles by yourself at home.

As the world continues to battle the spread of COVID-19 some states and cities are beginning to reopen while others are still limiting mobility, clinic openings or in-person medical appointments. Regardless of where your community is in the reopening process, you have likely participated in a "home" version of something you would not normally do. For example, home workouts, becoming a baking expert and mastering virtual meetings to perfection. 

While these lifestyle changes can even be fun and see how expectations don't always match reality, most of them won't cause you harm (even those bad self-made haircuts!).

However, some things are best left to professionals, including the diagnosis and treatment of skin lesions. The consequences of removing a mole without the supervision of an expert can be very important. Recently, in an article I explained the correct way to remove moles by a dermatologist.

Devices or grandmother's tricks to remove moles at home

Home mole removal devices can be a tempting purchase for people trying to take care of skin problems on their own. But these products that promise to burn, freeze or even use lasers to remove moles or skin blemishes can have potentially harmful side effects and unintended consequences. Together with dermatologists who specialize in skin cancer, we believe that it is simply not worth the risk.

"This is not like getting a haircut. There are very serious risks associated with trying to remove a mole yourself."

There are very serious consequences associated with trying to remove a mole yourself, either with a tool called a plasma pen or something found around the house. I have had people tell me that they have tried to remove moles with everything from duct tape to kitchen scissors.

What are the risks and consequences of removing moles at home?

The problems are diverse and you need to think twice before venturing into a dermatological procedure at home. As I have mentioned before, the differential diagnosis of a wart or mole can be very broad and the treatment of each is different. Below I will detail the main risks when trying to remove a mole by yourself.

1- We will not know the diagnosis of the injury

The main problem associated with removing something from your skin on your own is that there is no way of knowing whether you are removing a benign lesion or a malignant one. Dermatologists spend years training ourselves to recognize suspicious lesions at very early stages, and even after identifying one, we perform a biopsy to determine what the exact diagnosis is before deciding how to move forward.

"You might cut off a mole you don't like, thinking you're saving money by not going to the doctor, but you might actually be cutting off a melanoma."

Melanoma is a very dangerous form of skin cancer. which can spread rapidly to other organs if not detected at an early stage. If you unknowingly cut a melanoma yourself, some melanoma cells can remain deep in the skin and then spread through the blood to other parts of the body, all without your knowledge. A dermatologist would normally perform a biopsy on the tissue to be certain of any diagnosis. Under normal conditions, when we detect a malignant mole, the patient is operated on again to remove any remaining cancer cells and ensure that the cancer has not spread.

Wound infections

Another risk of removing a mole at home is that infections are much more frequent. It is unlikely that people who remove moles at home will have the same aseptic tools, skin preparation and postoperative care that a dermatologist would give you. An infection will delay healing at the site and will increase the chances of possibilities of abnormal scarring or keloids.

3. Unexpected aesthetic results

The risk of scarring after an at-home procedure is high compared to when a lesion is removed by a dermatologist. This could result in scarring such as chickenpox, atrophic (sunken) or hypertrophic (raised) scars and or even keloid formation.

Large keloid on a patient's arm after mole removal
Image of a woman with a keloid on her arm.

In addition, when trying to remove a mole at home without a proper technique, it is very likely that you will only make an ineffective partial excision of the same. With home methods it is practically impossible to remove a lesion in its entirety and there will always be remnants of the lesion. This leaves part of the mole in the deeper layers of the skin, and therefore you will not get the aesthetic appearance you want. Also, the fact that the mole has been previously manipulated can cause problems in the future if you ever want it to be removed properly.

4. Difficulty in the future to make a good diagnosis.

Manipulating or partially removing a mole with a home device can also cause changes in the cells that make them appear malignant under a microscope, even when they are not (this is called pseudomelanoma). The abnormal appearance of these cells could lead a pathologist to misdiagnose a benign mole as melanoma, which means you could undergo treatment for melanoma that you never would have needed.

Different types of warts and moles to remove
As you can see many of the skin lesions we remove are also formed deep in the skin. This dermal proliferation or mole roots require proper treatment to achieve adequate aesthetic results.

So, how can I remove moles that worry me or that I don't like?

Even though these are complicated times because of COVID-19 and there are many DIY ("Do it yourself") tutorials for things you never thought you could do on your own at home, I would never recommend removing a mole or skin blemish on your own.

Dermatologist removing a mole using the electrofulguration technique.
Professional removal of a mole by electrofulguration. The sample is then sent for microscopic analysis.

I recently wrote an article where you can see the importance of making a correct diagnosis and choosing the best technique to remove a mole.

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Sebastian Podlipnik - Skin cancer

Sebastian Podlipnik

Dermatology Blog

I am a dermatologist and cum laude MD and author of multiple research studies. I specialize in skin cancer, laser technologies and cosmetic dermatology. The intention of this blog is to bring you closer to topics of interest in dermatology and research.

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